The Awkward Conversation! (Russell Simmons Controversy)
StartFragmentPlease read the whole thing and not just the headline!
No not Uncle Russell? We all know Russell Simmons wasn't a perfect gentleman his whole life, but he has grown to represent an ideological vision of a successful black man. People of all backgrounds, races, and income variety look to Russell as a measurement to strive to.
He became Uncle Russ, one of the founding fathers of Hip Hop. He's a cultural icon and a pillar to the success of growing Hip Hop into the international mainstream. Even though Russell talks about it in his books and is known to have used drugs and alcohol heavy in the beginning of his ascension to mogul we never considered Uncle Russ to be the drunk uncle at the family barbecue that everybody tends to stay away from. Instead Russell was the "Rich" Uncle. The one that made something of his self and made sure to make sure everybody knew it, not just to brag, but to be an example and to provide a blueprint so you can do it for yourself as well. He was always about his business.
We are now saddened with the fact that our beloved Uncle Russ, has now been another name added to the many among the list of powerful and successful industry men who have been alleged to have committed some form of sexual assault towards a woman. There was an early allegation that really kind of went and floated around that didn't really seem to sink in with that one. It was a woman alleging that Russell sexually assaulted her when she was 17. It was given attention but not given a full level of belief it probably should have deserved especially with the time frame that it was shared.
Then, Jenny Lumet a successful Hollywood writer announced to the world through a guest column open letter (see the link in the beginning of this post) that she was sexually assaulted by Russell Simmons and our beloved Uncle Russ is suddenly unrecognizable. Her well written and detailed recollection of a night in question that forever changed her life made us cringe with disbelief, but sulk with disappointment. What she described has made us think. What she shared has made us question. What she wrote has now hit the black community in a way that has last happened with the Bill Cosby scandal. But Russell did not use pills, he instead used his powerful status, influence and celebrity that made it difficult for this woman to escape an act she did not wish to commit.
Russell's statement in response to Lumet, I do believe it to be genuine and sincere. His decision to step down from all his business in order reevaluate himself in retrospect is a significant one. The sad thing about it all, is when Russell says he does not remember that night the same way that Jenny does, many of us actually believe him. Here is why that assertion is so painful.
As a human male, particularly being a black male in America, we are raised and taught a number of things as we grow to become mature adults in our given society. One of those things we learn is when a woman says "No" she mean "NO!" Once that two letter word is uttered during perceived sexual situations then all manners of pursuit and sexual aggression is to cease! But what happens if the woman doesn't have the strength to say those words out loud? What if the woman is so paralyzed with fear that she cannot speak that specific word? What if her concern for her life, safety, her job, her appearance in society, and overall discomfort negates her ability to cognitively assert herself as an unwilling participant. This is what I believe occurred in this situation. This is why Russell may feel as if he didn't do exactly what Jenny Lumet is saying in this open letter. Maybe she didn't actually say "No" but does that mean she was consenting?
Lets take a real good look at this situation, at ourselves and each other. It is time to have a deep but awkward conversation. Movies and media images have always brainwashed us into believing that seduction is the key to romance. How many times have we watched the romantic movie scene in which the Male lead character chases his love interest down to profess his love, and in the middle of that scene he grabs the woman he is "so in love" with by her arms pushes her against a wall and kisses her forcibly. But wait, it's okay because almost immediately the woman gives in and starts kissing the man back. The popular belief is that the actions of the man was romantic and seductive, but there could be another perception of that act that is a little more uncomfortable and concerning. It is a perception that doesn't get discussed and is constantly swept under the rug. But I can't ignore that perception anymore based on the letter written by Jenny Lumet and the response given by Russell Simmons.
Just because the woman isn't screaming, fussing, struggling or fighting doesn't mean she is giving consent. Silence can be awkward for a reason. When alcohol or other substances are involved it can get even more tricky. "Going from the club to the crib" seems to be a theme in a lot of the music we listen to, but consent to go home together, still is not automatic consent for sex. This Awkward Conversation can no longer be ignored. There are many women and also some men of Hollywood that are starting to bring this conversation to the forefront. Now its up to us in our own communities to have this conversation among ourselves as well!EndFragment
StartFragmentGetty Images (Simmons); Courtesy of subject (Lumet)EndFragment